A recent study has revealed that elderly care home residents are routinely being given dangerous ‘chemical cosh’ drugs to keep them sedated.
Despite a supposed crackdown on the use of the controversial pills, one in five is being given antipsychotics to control their behaviour and keep them calm.
According to a Daily Mail report, more than three quarters of the prescriptions were ‘excessive’ on these drugs.
The study stated that residents were often kept on the drugs for far longer than the recommended six weeks, and in some cases until they died.
Antipsychotics are tranquillizers which are meant to be given to schizophrenia patients to prevent hallucinations.
They have been dubbed the ‘chemical cosh’ due to their sedative effects and are now routinely prescribed to dementia sufferers to control agitation. However, previous research has shown that patients are up to nine times more likely to have a stroke and twice as likely to die early and the drugs also hasten their mental decline.
A major Government review in 2009 called for prescriptions for dementia to be slashed by two thirds in four years. But the study concluded that the pills are still routinely used as a form of ‘chemical restraint’ to stop patients being a nuisance.
The research involved 31,619 residents in 616 care homes and showed that prescription rates had actually increased.
It said an average of 19 percent of residents were taking an antipsychotic in 2012, the most recent year for which figures are available up from 18 percent in 2009.
The researchers said the figures would have changed little since 2012, and if anything would be worse.
They also said the true numbers on antipsychotics were probably far higher than a fifth as their study looked at the better performing care homes.
According to the study, 77 percent of prescriptions in 2012 were ‘excessive’, up from 69.7 percent in 2009.
Their use was deemed ‘excessive’ if patients had been on them more than the maximum six weeks recommended by government guidelines.
Another team of researchers from Warwick, Coventry and City universities found that many patients stayed on them for more than a year and very often until they died.
They said that often care home staff were urging the practitioners to prescribe the medication to difficult patients they were struggling to control.
Lead researcher professor Ala Szczepura said although her study only analysed records up to 2012, today’s prescribing rates of anti-psychotics would probably be the same, if not worse.
An expert in the field George McNamara said, “Antipsychotics increase the risk of stroke, falls and even death, it’s shocking that the evidence continues to be flatly ignored.
With person-centred approaches and training programmes for care home staff, continued inappropriate prescribing is a step backward into the dark ages.”
The study also found that patients in care homes who had a dedicated GP responsible for regular visits were far less likely to be prescribed antipsychotics.
Those who were under the care of several GP surgeries, with doctors unfamiliar with the patients, were more likely to see antipsychotic prescriptions.
It also showed that many patients were being given drugs which aren’t even licensed to be used for dementia.
These are medications which are meant to be used for other illnesses and their side effects for dementia patients have not been rigorously checked.
Doctors are allowed to prescribe the drugs at their discretion but they are meant to carry out regular checks on patients to ensure they are not suffering side effects.
The analysis found that 14 percent of all care home residents were taking an unlicensed antipsychotic. The study was published in the BMJ Open online journal.